Unraveling the optical shape of snow

Robledano, Alvaro ; Picard, Ghislain ; Dumont, Marie ; Flin, Frédéric ; Arnaud, Laurent ; Libois, Quentin

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<p align=justify>The reflection of sunlight off the snow is a major driver of the Earth's climate. This reflection is governed by the shape and arrangement of ice crystals at the micrometer scale, called snow microstructure. However, snow optical models overlook the complexity of this microstructure by using simple shapes, and mainly spheres. The use of these various shapes leads to large uncertainties in climate modeling, which could reach 1.2?K in global air temperature. Here, we accurately simulate light propagation in three-dimensional images of natural snow at the micrometer scale, revealing the optical shape of snow. This optical shape is neither spherical nor close to the other idealized shapes commonly used in models. Instead, it more closely approximates a collection of convex particles without symmetry. Besides providing a more realistic representation of snow in the visible and near-infrared spectral region (400 to 1400?nm), this breakthrough can be directly used in climate models, reducing by 3 the uncertainties in global air temperature related to the optical shape of snow.</p>
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